Texas Gov. Abbott appoints Rebeca Huddle to replace Justice Paul Green on state supreme court

On October 15, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) appointed Rebeca Huddle to replace Justice Paul Green on the Texas Supreme Court.

Justice Green announced his retirement from the Texas Supreme Court in August 2020.

Huddle is a Republican who served as a justice on Texas’ First District Court of Appeals. She graduated from Stanford University and the University of Texas School of Law. Upon her appointment, Huddle said, “I understand the magnitude of the trust and responsibility that the governor is placing in me and in every justice of the Supreme Court, and I’ll work hard every day to earn that trust anew.”

Huddle will face a retention election in 2022 to keep her seat on the court.

Abbott said, “Rebeca is a first-generation American. Her mother emigrated from Juarez to Texas and later became a naturalized citizen. Rebeca’s father passed away when she was just 5 years old … Although her mother never graduated from high school, she worked tirelessly as a seamstress in a factory in El Paso to provide for Rebeca and her four siblings.”

Abbott has appointed three others to fill vacancies on the all-Republican appointed Texas Supreme Court since taking office in 2015. He appointed Justices Jane Bland, Brett Busby and Jimmy Blacklock.

Four justices on the Texas Supreme Court face re-election in 2020: Jeffrey S. Boyd, Brett Busby, Nathan Hecht, Jane Bland.

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Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball change race rating of Georgia’s special U.S. Senate election

On Oct. 13, The Cook Political Report changed its race rating for the special U.S. Senate election in Georgia from “Lean Republican” to “Toss-up”. On Oct. 8, Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its rating from “Likely Republican” to “Leans Republican”.

Polling in recent weeks has shown Raphael Warnock (D) leading incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) and Rep. Doug Collins (R), who have been tied within, or near, margins of error. Recent polls from Quinnipiac showed Warnock with 41%, Collins with 22%, and Loeffler with 20%. Polls from Public Policy Polling show a similar margin, with Loeffler at 24% instead of 20%.

Twenty-one candidates are on the ballot: eight Democrats, six Republicans, five independents, one Green Party candidate and one Libertarian. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote on Nov. 3, a runoff between the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will take place Jan. 5, 2021.

Republicans have held both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats since 2005. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed Loeffler following Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R) resignation in December 2019.

Georgia is also holding a regularly scheduled Senate election. Race raters call that election between incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R), Jon Ossof (D), and Shane Hazel (L), Toss-up, Tilt Republican, or Lean Republican.

RealClearPolitics’ polling average for the presidential election in Georgia suggested a competitive race, as of Monday, with Joe Biden (D) at 47.8% and Donald Trump (R) at 46.6%.

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Michigan board approves circulation of recall petition against state attorney general

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on October 15 approved the petition language for a recall against Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D). The board previously rejected five recall petitions against Nessel in 2020. Supporters of the recall effort need to submit 1,046,006 signatures within a 60-day period to require a recall election. The 60 days begin on the first day that signatures are collected. The recall petition must be submitted to the office of the Michigan Secretary of State no later than 180 days after it was approved by the board.

The recall petition was submitted by Chad Baase on September 25. Michigan laws state that the reason for recall must be deemed factual and clear by the Board of State Canvassers before the recall petition can be placed in circulation. The board does not document a rationale for their determination, only the judgment of rejected or approved.

The recall petition criticizes Nessel over her announced plans of ramping up efforts to enforce Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) Executive Order 2020-148. The executive order provided enhanced protections for residents and staff of long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, Baase has filed 12 recall petitions against four statewide officials. Five have been approved for circulation, five were rejected in clarity hearings, and two were withdrawn.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, four statewide officials in Michigan have seen recall petitions submitted against them. In total, 31 recall petitions have targeted the four officials. In comparison, Ballotpedia tracked no recall efforts against any Michigan statewide official in 2019.

This year, Whitmer has had 20 recall petitions submitted against her. Nine of those petitions have been approved for circulation, 10 efforts were rejected, and one effort was withdrawn by the petitioner. Two recall petitions have been introduced against Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (D). One petition has been approved for circulation, and the other was rejected. Three recall petitions have also been introduced against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D). One effort has been approved for circulation, one effort was withdrawn by the petitioner, and the other was rejected.

Michigan is under a divided government. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state Senate by a 22-16 margin and the state House by a 58-51 margin with one vacancy. Whitmer was elected as Michigan’s governor in 2018 with 53.3% of the vote.

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Results of Mississippi special general runoff elections

Special general runoff elections were held for Mississippi State Senate Districts 15 and 39 and Mississippi House of Representatives Districts 37 and 66 on Oct. 13, 2020. In Mississippi, special elections for state legislative offices are nonpartisan. The special general election for the four districts was held on Sept. 22, 2020. The filing deadline passed on Aug. 3, 2020.

In Senate District 15, Bart Williams won the special election with 53.6% of the vote and defeated Joyce Meek Yates. The special election was called after Gary Jackson (R) resigned on June 30, 2020. Jackson served from 2004 to 2020.

In Senate District 39, Jason Barrett won with 56.1% of the vote and defeated Bill Sones. The special election was called after Sally Doty (R) left office to become the executive director of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff. She resigned on July 15, 2020. Doty served from 2012 to 2020.

In House District 37, Lynn Wright won with 63.8% of the vote and defeated David Chism. The special election was called after Gary Chism (R) resigned on June 30, 2020. Gary Chism served from 2000 to 2020.

In House District 66, De’Keither Stamps won with 61.5% of the votes and defeated Bob Lee Jr. The special election was called after Jarvis Dortch (D) resigned on July 2, 2020. Dortch served from 2016 to 2020.

As of October 2020, 59 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 27 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

Mississippi has held 36 state legislative special elections between 2010 and 2019.

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Ballotpedia study finds that 36 state APAs limit ex parte communications between hearing officers and the parties involved in agency adjudication

A Ballotpedia survey of all 50 state constitutions and administrative procedure acts (APAs) revealed that 36 state APAs limit ex parte communications between hearing officers and the parties involved in adjudication, as of October 2020. No state constitutions restrict contact between agency hearing officials and parties in a case.

Ex parte communications are any form of contact between a party to an adjudication and the official conducting the hearing without the knowledge or consent of the other party to the case. Adjudication proceedings are agency determinations outside of the rulemaking process that aim to resolve disputes between either agencies and private parties or between two private parties. The adjudication process results in the issuance of an adjudicative order, which serves to settle the dispute and, in some cases, may set agency policy.

Understanding adjudication procedures provides insight into due process procedural rights of citizens at the state level, one of the five pillars key to understanding the main areas of debate about the nature and scope of the administrative state.

To learn more about Ballotpedia’s survey related to procedural rights, see here: 
Procedural rights: State that limit ex part communications between hearing officers and the parties involved in adjudication

Want to go further? Learn more about the five pillars of the administrative state here:
Administrative state

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Learn more about the arguments in the debate over lockdown/stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic

Discussions about policy responses to the coronavirus are happening at a fast pace. As part of our ongoing coverage Documenting America’s Path to Recovery, Ballotpedia has published a series of articles capturing the regular themes in support of and opposition to these policy responses.

Here’s how it works. First, we identify a topic area, (such as mask requirements or testing). Next, we gather and curate articles and commentary from public officials, think tanks, journalists, scientists, economists, and others. Finally, we organize that commentary into broad, thematic summaries of the arguments put forth.

We’ve identified the following arguments as some of those in favor of lockdown/stay-at-home orders:

  1. The orders are necessary,
  2. The orders are better for the economy long-term,
  3. The orders are legal, and
  4. The orders are limited.

We’ve identified the following arguments as some of those against lockdown/stay-at-home orders:

  1. The orders are unnecessary,
  2. The orders are worse than the coronavirus pandemic itself,
  3. The orders are illegal, and
  4. The orders go too far.

To read more about these issues, click the links below.

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Washington State Supreme Court overrules recall petition against Seattle mayor

On October 8, 2020, the Washington State Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling which allowed a recall effort against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D).

The supreme court’s unanimous order read, “The allegations in this case are deeply troubling and our review requires that we treat the factual allegations as true. Nevertheless, after carefully considering the issues presented, the court concludes that the recall charges presented in this case are factually and legally insufficient.”

Elliott Grace, Harvey, Alan Meekins Jr., Courtney Scott, Leah Solomon, and Charlie Stone organized the recall effort.

The Washington Constitution allows for the recall of elected officials if they violate their oath of office or “in commission of some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office.” To put a recall on the ballot, recall supporters have 180 days to collect valid signatures equal to 25% of the total vote for the office in the last regular election.

Organizers in the recall effort against Durkan began filing paperwork on June 15, 2020.

King County Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts ruled on July 10, 2020, that petitioners could begin gathering signatures. Roberts dismissed six of the seven charges as insufficient for a recall election. The second charge was found to be sufficient grounds for the recall effort to move forward. Recall organizers had until January 6, 2021, to gather about 54,000 valid signatures in order to put the recall election on the ballot.

The second charge of the recall petition said, “Mayor Durkan endangered the peace and safety of the community and violated her duties under RCW 35.18.200, Seattle Charter Art. V, Sec. 2, SMC 10.02.010A, and her oath to uphold US Const., Amends. 1 and 4, Washington Constitution, Art. 1 Sec. 3-5, when she failed to institute new policies and safety measures for the Seattle Police Department when using crowd control measures during a public health emergency.”

The state of Washington selects its state supreme court justices through nonpartisan elections. Of the nine members on the supreme court, five have been appointed by Democratic governors to fill vacancies on the court.

The terms of justices Raquel Montoya-Lewis, Charles W. Johnson, and Debra Stephens will expire on January 10, 2021. Additionally, Justice G. Helen Whitener was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Justice Charlie Wiggins’ retirement in March of 2020, so she will face retention election this year. The four seats are up for nonpartisan election on November 3, 2020.

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Rhode Island Supreme Court justice set to retire in December

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Francis Flaherty is retiring on December 31, 2020. Flaherty announced plans to pursue other interests following his retirement.

Flaherty earned a bachelor’s degree from Providence College in 1968. He earned a J.D., cum laude, from Suffolk University Law School in 1975.

Flaherty’s career experience includes working as an attorney in private practice in Warwick, Rhode Island, serving as an assistant city solicitor, and serving with the Warwick City Council from 1978 to 1985. Flaherty was elected Mayor of Warwick and served from 1984 to 1991. He also served as a member of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education from 1988 to 2003. He was appointed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) in 2003.

The five justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court are appointed by the governor with help from a nominating commission. Supreme court nominees must be approved by both the state House and the state Senate.

The current chief justice of the court is Paul Suttell, who was appointed by Gov. Carcieri in 2003. Gov. Carcieri named Suttell as the chief justice of the court in 2009.

The remaining two active justices of the court are:
• Maureen McKenna Goldberg – Appointed by Gov. Lincoln Almond (R) in 1997
• William Robinson – Appointed by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) in 2004

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Gilbert Indeglia retired from the court on June 30, 2020. Indeglia’s seat is currently vacant.

In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements. Thirteen vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Eight are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

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Two Montana Supreme Court seats are up for nonpartisan election in November

The seats of Montana Supreme Court Justices Laurie McKinnon and Jim Shea will be up for a nonpartisan election in November. Jim Shea is running uncontested while McKinnon is running in a race with Mike Black.

McKinnon was last elected in 2012 while Shea was appointed in 2014 and elected in 2016. Two of Montana’s supreme court justices, including Shea, were appointed by Democratic governors, one was appointed by a Republican governor, and the rest were elected.

The seven justices on the Montana Supreme Court are elected in nonpartisan elections for eight-year terms. The candidates compete in primaries where the top two contestants advance to the general election. Whenever a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement from a list produced by the Montana Judicial Nominating Commission. The appointee, if confirmed by the Montana Senate, then remains in the seat until the next general election after their appointment. At this time, the appointed justice must run for re-election as the incumbent in a nonpartisan election to complete the remainder of the unexpired term.

Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. Montana has not seen an incumbent supreme court justice lose an election during this same time frame.

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Mark Zuckerberg donated $500,000 to campaign supporting Oregon Measure 110, the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative 

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), Mark Zuckerberg’s public advocacy fund, donated $500,000 to More Treatment for a Better Oregon: Yes on 110, the campaign sponsoring Measure 110.

Oregon Measure 110 would make personal non-commercial possession of a controlled substance no more than a Class E violation (max fine of $100 fine) and establish a drug addiction treatment and recovery program funded in part by the state’s marijuana tax revenue and state prison savings.

The initiative is the first ballot measure Zuckerberg has contributed to in Oregon. In 2020, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative contributed $6.3 million to support California Proposition 15, which would require commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on market value. CZI also contributed $1 million to the No on Proposition 20 campaign. California Proposition 20 would make changes to policies related to criminal sentencing charges, prison release, and DNA collection.

More Treatment for a Better Oregon reported $2 million in contributions according to the latest campaign finance reports filed on October 5.

There were three other committees registered in support of the measure—IP 44, A More Humane Approach – Yes on 110 Committee, and Washington County Justice Initiative PAC. Together, they reported $2.5 million in contributions. Drug Policy Action, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that has funded marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization efforts in other states, contributed $3.4 million to the campaigns supporting the initiative.

Theshia Naidoo, the managing director of criminal justice law and policy at Drug Policy Action, said, “Oregonians have always been early adopters of drug policies that shift the emphasis towards health and away from punishment. The idea behind this groundbreaking effort is simple: people suffering from addiction need help, not criminal punishments. Instead of arresting and jailing people for using drugs, the measure would fund a range of services to help people get their lives back on track.”

The opposition campaign, No on Measure 110, reported over $55,000 in contributions. Oregon Council for Behavioral Health recently came out in opposition to the measure. They argued, “The measure provides no new funding, destroys pathways to treatment and recovery, and fails to address racial injustice in our systems by decriminalizing a narrow set of charges without resource for larger system innovation. … OCBH supports the supporters’ goal of correcting inherent injustice and decriminalizing drug charges, but this measure falls short of addressing the wide-ranging impacts on access to treatment and recovery.”

The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission estimated that Oregon spent $472 million on substance abuse treatment services and $1.95 billion on corrections from 2017 to 2019.

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